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“There is no place on this planet, no ground, no air, no sanctuary, no wharf, no hermitage, no refuge, no time, like the one week each summer when Black poets descend on an unsuspecting space and it becomes Cave Canem.”
Nikky Finney,The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South

Cave Canem’s week-long retreat is held annually at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Black poets of African descent, ages 21 and over, are eligible to apply. Once accepted, poets become “fellows.” Most are invited to attend two additional retreats within a five-year period.

A retreat residency offers an unparalleled opportunity to study with a world-class faculty and join a community of peers. Some fellows hail from the spoken word tradition, others focus on the text. Some are formalists, others work at the cutting edge of experimentation. All are united by a common purpose to improve their craft and find productive space “where black poets, individually and collectively, can inspire and be inspired by others, relieved of any obligation to explain or defend their blackness (Harryette Mullen).”

Tuition, valued at $1,500, is provided free of charge. Participants are asked to pay a $560 room-and-board fee. Limited financial assistance for room-and-board is available on the basis of need. Participants are encouraged to seek alternative sources of support—for example, grants and professional development funds.

Apply for a Retreat Internship

2016 Retreat

When: June 12-19, 2016
Where: University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, PA, & City of Asylum/Pittsburgh
Faculty: Cornelius Eady, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Willie Perdomo, Evie Shockley, Amber Flora Thomas and Kevin Young
Guest Poet: Major Jackson
Application Period: October 6 – December 4, 2015
Apply Online
Returning Fellows: Registration due January 8, 2016, 11:59 pm.

  • $0.00

Fellows eligible to return will be contacted in November 2015 with registration guidelines. (Do not apply online using the link above.)
Questions? Call Programs Director Nicole Sealey at 718.858.0000.

Retreat FAQs

Who is eligible to apply?
Black poets of African descent, ages 21 years and over.

Any tips for preparing a successful application?
Submit your best, most representative work. We welcome diverse aesthetics and subject matter. It’s often useful to ask an experienced poet whose opinion you trust for feedback on your selections. Your brief narrative allows us to appreciate your artistic journey and goals, and helps us compare participant expectations to outcomes−but it will not substantively influence the judging process. The quality and potential of your poems are our key criteria.

How many poets apply for first-year residencies, and how many are accepted?
Usually 12-15 are accepted out of approximately 260 applicants. Because many fellows return for second- and third- year residencies, space is limited.

How are room-and-board scholarships decided?
Financial aid is awarded on the basis of need. Our annual scholarship fund typically totals $12,000, a modest sum that does not allow us to meet every applicant’s request. Fellows are urged to pursue alternative resources , including grants and institutional professional development funds.

How many fellows attend each retreat? Once accepted, how many times may I return?
Typically, 54 poets attend. With very few exceptions, first-year fellows are invited to return for two more residencies, for a total of three residencies within a five-year period.

Describe a typical day.
8:30 – 9:30 am: Eat breakfast, exercise, write or sleep.
10 am: The poem you wrote last night or in the wee hours is due. Yes, a new poem is due every day, Monday-Saturday!
10:15 – 11:30 am: Optional activities. Fellow-led workshops on various topics and a
presentation by the guest poet are offered during the week.
12:30 – 1:15 pm: Eat lunch, write, talk, rest, exercise.
2 – 5 pm: Required participation in a workshop led by one of six faculty members. Your group of nine will work with a different faculty member every day, for a total of six workshops.
6-7:15 pm: Dinner.
After dinner: Attend a faculty or fellows reading.
On Thursday, workshops are held in Pittsburgh, hosted by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh, followed by dinner on your own and a tented showcase faculty reading.

How are workshop groups composed?
Randomly. You choose your group by drawing from a hat on the first evening of the retreat.

Will I have access to transportation?
Air-conditioned bussing to and from Pittsburgh International Airport is available on arrival and departure days. Fellows board an air-conditioned bus to/from our mid-week visit to City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. In the event of a medical emergency, staff provides transportation to Greensburg’s nearby hospital emergency room, or an ambulance is summoned.

Are there restrictions and guidelines?

Cave Canem’s Code of Conduct/Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policy  is in effect throughout the retreat for all participants—fellows, faculty, guest poets, staff, interns, guests and volunteers.

Off-campus overnights and on-campus guests are not permitted (with the exception of public readings).

All dorms are quiet dorms after 11 pm.

Smoking is confined to a designated outdoor area.

Participants may consume alcohol in moderation in designated indoor spaces. A tolerance policy is in effect at all times.